Occurrence of phosphorus in groundwater and surface water of northwestern Mississippi

Author(s): Welch, H.; Kingsbury, J.; Coupe, R.

Previous localized studies of groundwater samples from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial (MRVA) aquifer have demonstrated that dissolved phosphorus concentrations in the aquifer are much higher than the national background concentration of 0.03 milligram per liter (mg/L) found in 400 shallow wells across the country. Forty-six wells screened in the MRVA aquifer in northwestern Mississippi were sampled from June to October 2010 to characterize the occurrence of phosphorus in the aquifer, as well as the factors that might contribute to high dissolved phosphorus concentrations in groundwater. Dissolved phosphorus concentrations ranged from 0.12 to 1.2 mg/L with a median concentration of 0.62 mg/L. The predominant subunit of the MRVA aquifer in northwestern Mississippi is the Holocene alluvium in which median dissolved phosphorus concentrations were higher than the Pleistocene valley trains deposits subunit. Highest phosphorus concentrations occurred in water from wells located along the Mississippi River. A general association between elevated phosphorus concentrations and dissolved iron concentrations suggests that reducing conditions that mobilize iron in the MRVA aquifer also might facilitate transport of phosphorus. Using baseflow separation to estimate the contribution of baseflow to total streamflow, the estimated contribution to the total phosphorus load associated with baseflow at the Tensas River at Tendal, LA, and at the Bogue Phalia near Leland, MS, was 23 percent and 8 percent, respectively. This analysis indicates that elevated concentrations of dissolved phosphorus in the MRVA aquifer could be a possible source of phosphorus to streams during baseflow conditions. However, the fate of phosphorus in groundwater discharge and irrigation return flow to streams is not well understood.

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